East Gate, Caernarfon

button-theme-slavesEast Gate, Caernarfon

This structure is known in Welsh as Y Porth Mawr (large gate). It was the main entrance to the walled town of Caernarfon (the other vehicular entrances we see today were created much later). The curfew bell here was rung each evening – people outside the town were locked out for the night if they ignored the bell!

Old photo of East Gate, Caernarfon
East Gate and Guildhall, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

The structure was rebuilt to an improved design after being damaged by Welsh rebels in 1294, before the castle had been completed. Rooms above the arch housed administrative offices for North-west Wales and the region’s Exchequer for three centuries.

The gate’s drawbridge was raised in times of trouble, but normally it lay flat to connect to a fixed bridge. A barbican (a smaller defensive gate) stood where the two bridges met. The bridges carried the road over the marshy ground alongside the river Cadnant, which flowed south-north parallel to the town wall. The road joined Bridge Street at a busy trading place, now known as Turf Square.

The drawbridge’s place is now taken by a stone arch, part of the low viaduct on which most of the street (Stryd y Porth Mawr) still rests. The other stone arches are hidden by adjoining buildings.

Old photo of Caernarfon's East Gate
East Gate and Guildhall, with a shop above the arch in the former
drawbridge location. Courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

Much of the East Gate was rebuilt in 1767 and 1833, creating a town hall and Guildhall above the arch. In 1828 and 1830 anti-slavery meetings were held there, resulting in petitions to both Houses of Parliament. Speakers told of the “shocking cruelty with which negro slaves are treated”. Britain abolished slavery in 1833.

A town clock, illuminated by gaslight, was installed here but was short-lived because it confused mariners trying to find their way into Caernarfon port at night!

The old photos from the National Monuments Record of Wales (courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales) show the shape of the East Gate after its further rebuilding in 1873. The Guildhall, visible above the arch, was demolished in the 1960s.

With thanks to KF Banholzer, author of the guidebook ‘Within Old Caernarfon’s Town Walls'

Postcode: LL55 1RG    View Location Map

Copies of the old photo and other images are available from the RCAHMW. Contact: nmr.wales@rcahmw.gov.uk